Global Views on What Makes an Effective Teacher

Around the World, Similar Values about What Makes a Teacher Effective

Dr. Kathy McKnight was lead researcher for the Pearson Global Survey of Educator Effectiveness.

The survey approached teachers, administrators, parents, students, and government officials in 23 countries “to understand what key stakeholders in school systems from around the world value as the most important qualities of an effective teacher.”

“What really surprised us,” Kathy says, “is the consistency in our findings.”

“The number one most commonly cited feature of an effective teacher the world over,” she says, “was a teacher’s ability to build a trusting relationship with students.”

Kathy says that response was as clear in countries where the education system is well-developed—like Japan, Singapore, Finland, Australia, and the U.S—as it was in countries where the education system is still developing—like India, Brazil, Morocco, and Egypt.

Effectiveness Versus Experience

“Effective teaching involves a relationship,” Kathy says.”It makes sense,” she says. “In order for students to focus their cognitive resources on learning, they have to feel safe and supported.”


This kind of learning environment, Kathy says, rises far beyond subject matter knowledge and a teacher’s years of experience in the classroom.

What This Means for Technology in the Classroom

Findings from this global survey could also have an impact on research on best practices to integrate technology in the classroom.

“Technology can have a transformative role in teaching and learning,” Kathy says, “but we can’t forget how important effective teachers and relationships are to learning.” Thinking through how those relationships might be leveraged is critical for digital initiatives like online and self-directed learning to be successful.

How Best to Emphasize Teacher Effectiveness

“Policy-makers aren’t always listening to teachers to define effectiveness,” Kathy says. “And many teachers have had it.”

“It is often the case that those who are most directly impacted by the set of competencies and standards have little say in defining which features of effective teachers are valued most.”

She points to examples like Seattle, Chicago, New York and Mexico, where teachers took to the streets to protest teacher evaluations, along with other teacher policies for which they had little to no input.

According to some education policy experts, a top-down approach in which key stakeholders have no voice has many teachers leaving the profession. Fewer new teachers are entering the employment pipeline as well.

“Getting this research in the hands of people who can make a difference,” McKnight2Kathy says, “and sparking discussions about what it means to be an effective teacher and what kinds of education outcomes we value most is one way our study can help turn these problems around.”

The Future of Learning

Kathy says there are bright spots ahead for learning.

“It’s clear that people around the world are invested in education and care about the teaching and learning going on in their schools, which I find to be very hopeful,” she says.  “Most people weren’t thinking of a high-quality teacher as a person who makes children score well on tests but as someone who children trust and who cares deeply about their success.”

“This all adds up to a focus on the needs of the learner,” Kathy says. “And as we think about the learning products of the future, we can’t forget the fundamental importance of the teacher-student relationship.”

No One Formula

“It’s also true that there’s not just one formula to be an effective teacher,” Kathy says. “It always depends on context.”

Kathy points to teachers in South Africa who function in many ways like a social worker, connecting families and students with social services.

“Many teachers in low-income communities are asking: Are my students fed? Do my students need glasses? Are my students getting medical attention,” Kathy says.

“These teachers are not just guiding learners towards college and career,” she says. “They’re helping students meet the essential needs of life.”

Training More Effective Teachers

“I think the value of our study is in the use of these results to shape critical discussions around reviewing teacher training, hiring, and evaluation.”

Kathy McKnight has been featured in two other LearnED stories:

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